South Boston resident and vascular surgeon, Peter Agostinos, 55, has a saying that he applies to many life situations, and it is “we will figure it out.” It conveys an optimism that makes complex problems seem manageable and distinguishes solid intellect alone from an ability to deal with the unexpected. From the University of Buffalo Medical School to the Cleveland Clinic to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, this physician and father of four was working at the Carney Hospital when that familiar institution serving Boston neighborhoods for generations, entered a new iteration as it became the COVID treatment facility for much of the Steward Healthcare System. Peter Agostinos liked what the hospital stood for and worked their part -time in pre-Covid days. His role and the work changed dramatically with COVID-19.
“There were so many respiratory issues all of a sudden,” he said. “The large hospitals had their issues, too, but they also had unlimited resources. At Carney we changed on a dime because we had to. I have seen many people die, but this was a matter of sheer numbers, and it was humbling, but not scary.” He stayed throughout and became committed full-time using his skill and guts in a medical world with unknown challenges and practices. In a characteristically forthright way, he thinks about the whole team. “The nurses carried so much of the work,” he said, “and they should get so much credit.”
So, what prepared this physician to jump in and transcend any typical comfort level and care for some of the sickest people? His curiosity and vigor may have started when he was a child relocating from his native Greece to Syracuse, New York, without English, and in what was to be a single parent household as he also dealt with asthma.
“I was Greek speaking trying to learn English and It took one teacher to say, hey, this kid isn’t stupid,” to realize his potential and get the right academic course that then led to his exceptional success. “And, my mother,” he said with an absolute commitment that one feels could stabilize the earth, “she raised me and my sister and started her own business and she is my hero. That’s it. It is all because of her,” he said of his mother now living in Quincy.
There is something about Peter Agostinos that draws you in and you share in the marvel he expresses. “I always had an interest in how people get through tough things,” he said, and this seems to extend beyond physical illness alone. “I had an early experience with being between cultures, and maybe that is part of it,” and may be why Carney during COVID had special appeal.
“We all sign up to take care of the sick. It may have been the help I got as kid with asthma. Having someone help you breath is pretty nice. During COVID, as trying as it was, often without even time for ethics reviews we had to make the best calls. It was rewarding and I felt needed and wanted. All of us were, even the food vendors. There was such camaraderie,” he said.
Living in South Boston for three years, he has found a most compatible home. “I’m ecstatic here,” he said, “I walk everywhere, pick up my mother, go for a run and my kids love it, and it’s on the water and near everything,” he said. A lifelong athlete he has converted a coveted garage to a gym as another life force.
On his way to yet another experience at South Shore Hospital while keeping his part -time stint at Carney, his energy and inquisitiveness seem undeterred from COVID and other life challenges. The “we will figure it out, “attitude is sure to benefit any patient through any crisis and is one intrinsic to how this man embraces life and the next big challenge.
(Carol Masshardt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)